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The Art Of The Snack, One Illustration At A Time

The next time you need some help deciding what to pick for a midday munch, try Snack Data, a quirky, illustrated catalogue of foods. Part reference guide, part art project, it's the latest idiosyncratic creation of Los Angeles-based web developer Beau Johnson.

The entries are arranged by flavor, cuisine, and type of food, making it easy to find whatever kind of snack you desire. And for foods with more than one ingredient, the components are cross-listed to reveal connections between foods (e.g. Spaghetti & Meatballs – see also: Spaghetti, Meatball).

As an art project, Snack Data has a primal, throw-back feel. Accompanying the pixelated images are bits of questionable trivia and highly subjective tasting notes — kind of like a clever middle school kid's book report on foods from around the world, not an authoritative reference.

Johnson creates the illustrations using Photoshop, in the blocky style of early-1990s computer games like King's Quest. But Johnson, 27, says it wasn't meant to be retro.

"I know it has those associations," he says. It's also meant as a departure from the food photography that saturates the Internet, he adds.

For the text, Johnson pulls facts from Wikipedia or simply invents his own, like "the hot dog bun can be thought of as an edible glove" and "taco salad is something that happened when people in the United States got tired of eating regular taco."

"I try to give a little bit of real background," Johnson says, but admits, "I don't spend too long researching them." Johnson has added to the database regularly since its creation in mid-April. He's almost done with the primary entries, and he takes requests through email.

None of the entries are brand-name products, although some do resemblewell-known brands. Johnson felt it was important to focus on the foods themselves. "If you're writing about an orange or an apple or a scallop, there's no one to answer for it," he says. "You're just kind of commenting on this thing that's always been there."

We've selected a few of Johnson's favorites to feature in our Snack Data slideshow above, as well as a few of our own. Naturally, we've included the entry on salt. To explore the entire collection, visit snackdata.com.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ted Burnham